Trains, planes and Delay Repay: New York here I come

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Another week, another round of rail disruption. But Shirley resident KIRSTIE SMITH has found a silver lining on her daily commute into London

Tram-packed: another week of misery for commuters trying to get to work, with our taxes funding compensation

Tram-packed: another week of misery for commuters trying to get to work, with our taxes funding compensation

I’m heading to New York at the end of the year.  Nothing exceptional about that, except my flight is being funded by Southern Rail.

Or, more to the point, by the tax-payer.

You see, part of my commute is to London Bridge, and since living in Croydon I have used Southern Rail from East Croydon Station. For many months the service has been shocking with delays, cancellations and over-crowding on platforms and trains as a daily occurrence.

Fed up with the situation and the effect it was having on my life, I went to see my local MP, Gavin Barwell, before Christmas.  I had tried tweeting to him and emailing him but never got a reply so, after one particularly horrendous journey to work that took me 2hr 20min, I made a surgery appointment.  One of his staff tried to “fob me off” with a generic email, but I stood firm.

Our interesting conversation began with him stating that he wanted to legislate against the strikes. “Breaking the unions” was not why I was there. While the strikes have been a disruption for me, I have been lucky enough to be able to plan for them; there is always advance warning and I used an alternative route.

It was the terrible and unreliable service provided by Southern on the non-strike days I wanted to talk about, and specifically, what my MP and his Government was doing about it.

Southern doesn’t have a typical franchise agreement. It’s a management contract, with the Government paying Southern to “manage” the route for them. So, as far as I am concerned, the buck stops with the Tories.

Why weren’t they doing anything?

Why had they let a bad situation get so much worse?

Why weren’t they holding anyone to account?

What was being done to improve constituents’ commutes?

Not a lot it seemed. But, if you paid for a service and it wasn’t delivered, there would be consequences, so why not here?  This situation, and the lack of any intervention, or at least any effective intervention, by the Government will affect the way I vote. In Barwell’s defence, he stayed loyal to his party; he has to, he is in Government. But make no mistake, the Government is all about blaming the unions.

Theresa May, in her first speech as Prime Minister, said, “We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives.” Really Mrs May? So how has the party given commuters control over their lives? Please, do explain.

Commuter groups have been running a very effective campaign over Southern Fail

Commuter groups have been running a very effective campaign over Southern Fail

Commuting from East Croydon has given me an advantage over fellow commuters – some living on the coast have had it much, much, worse; I genuinely consider myself lucky. Not knowing what the situation will be like on any given day, or what time I will get to work, or get home, or whether I will even be able to get on a train as there is literally no room has had a huge impact.

I’m grumpy (or grumpier), stressed, tired, snappy and dread the commute to a job that I love.

And I am not the only one who has changed because of the terrible service provided by Southern. At East Croydon, commuter behaviour has changed; it’s every man, woman and sometimes child for themselves. With elbows at the ready, there is a determination that “I will get on this train” in the knowledge that cattle really do have better travelling conditions. It’s a harsh reality.

I’ve now changed my commute. Previously it was all by public transport, now I drive in the opposite direction and go from one of two stations, subject to parking. It’s not as convenient, takes longer, the train is slower (but so far, more reliable) and it means I can’t pick the kids up from nursery as it’s the wrong direction and I’m too late. But I’m less stressed and the difference in me is noticeable.

So how is it that the tax-payer funding my visit to New York? Delay Repay. Compensation for delays, cancellations and strikes. In addition, there will be one month’s compensation for annual season ticket holders (subject to Ts & Cs). When I started claiming Delay Repay, and realised that my claims were becoming more frequent, I kept the money to one side; after all, it’s money I wouldn’t have had.

Delay Repay comes directly from the Government’s coffers. Reportedly, they even pay an “administration fee” to Southern for processing these claims to Southern passengers for Southern’s poor service.

Delay Repay is in no way adequate compensation for the inconvenience, misery and impact being caused to commuters’ lives. People have lost their jobs, the self-employed are losing income, students can’t get to college and people have had to relocate all because of a terrible service.

We’ve been promised by Southern that a “full service” will return. What that means is anyone’s guess. So many services were removed from the timetable last summer I’m not sure anyone knows what the full service should be. But it sounds like progress as both sides have agreed to talks.

But then, as reported in the Telegraph yesterday, Chris Philp, the Tory MP for Croydon South, has decided that this week is a good time to bring forward draft laws to ban strikes by transport unions.

I won’t hold my breath on that full service just yet. But I have booked my flight.

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